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How a Predatory Film Distributor Screwed Over a Filmmaker with Terminal Cancer

Running Indie Film Hustle I hear story after story about predatory film distributors screwing over, taking advantage, and just plain stealing from filmmakers every day. I either get emails or read about them in our Facebook Group Community: Protect Yourself From Predatory Film Distributors/Aggregators.

I’m so sick and tired of this. These parasites need a light shined on them. The only way we as filmmakers can stop these predators from continuing to hurt filmmakers and devastate lives is to make their actions known. Predatory film distributors continue to screw filmmakers because their actions are performed in the shadows. They bank on that filmmakers will not fight back, that they will keep quiet and just take it. Well, ladies and gentlemen that ends here.

I broke the Distribber story around the same time last year. They were able to take advantage of filmmakers for a long time until someone finally brought their actions to the surface. That is the only weapon we as filmmakers have against predatory film distributors. Our Facebook group has helped thousands of filmmakers not get taken advantage of. I know that the podcasts and videos I put out have helped as well but it’s not enough. I’m only one voice.

We as a community need to stand up and demand change. The traditional film distribution system is BROKEN. I was just consulting with a filmmaker yesterday that told me that he too was screwed over by a film distributor. This distributor told him on the phone, once he confronted him about the theft of his film, and I quote,

“I’ll see you in the court of who gives a f**k.”

This distributor was in the UK and the filmmaker was in the US. The distributor knew that the chances of the filmmaker taking him to court in another country were slim to none. The filmmaker’s lawyer advised him to let it go because the cost would be too much. THIS CRAP NEEDS TO STOP.

Then I came across a video on YouTube of Michael Daniel, a filmmaker telling his story about how Michael Cowan of Phoenix Worldwide Entertainment screwed him over and never paid him the money he was owed. Oh by the way this filmmaker also has stage 4 cancer. This is the video I saw that moved me to reach out to Micahel.

He told me that this film distributor was literally waiting around for him to DIE so he wouldn’t have to pay him. Jesus Christ! I mean I thought I had heard it all but man this is a new low, even for predatory film distributors. Micahel has been fighting this fight by himself for over 18 months. He felt alone. No one would help him. If fighting terminal cancer is enough, he has had to deal with this situation as well. It’s just not right.

I knew I had to help and shine a light on this situation. So I invited him to the show and asked him to write, in his own words, his story and add proof in the article.

You can read his piece below.

I did my own research on Michael Cowan of Phoenix Worldwide Entertainment and discovered that this is not the first time he has been in the press regarding suspicious actions in the film financing/distribution world. According to the Mirror UK, Mr. Cowan was accused of raising money for a film called Mary Mother of Christ using Oscar® winning producer/director Mel Gibson‘s name but the rub is Mr. Gibson had never heard of the project.

This is not the first time Mr. Cowan had been accused of doing this. He had also raised money from the public for a film called Henry 5 that would have supposedly starred George Cloney, Matt Damon, Tom Hardy, Albert Finney, William H Macy, Sacha Baron Cohen, Micahel Caine, Gerard Depardieu, and Ray Winstone. All the actor’s agents said their clients had nothing to do with the project.

Stealth Media Group, the finance and international sales company founded by Michael Cowan and Jason Piette, was also accused of doing the same thing using John Travolta‘s name for a film called Gummy Bears. Again Mr. Travolta had no involvement in the project.

After digging some more I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of scandals and accusations that Mr. Cowan had against him and his companies. You can read about each accusation below:

This kind of crap needs to stop. Michael Daniel is a filmmaker who has struggled to follow his filmmaking dream and did all the right things and yet he’s in this sad and horrible situation. THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN. If predatory film distributors can continue to get away with screwing film producers over the system needs to change.

Both Michael and I are hoping this can help future filmmakers from making the same mistakes. I personally want to thank Michael for coming forward and sharing his story with the world. It takes a brave soul to do what he is doing. He’s not only fighting cancer but he is also fighting to get his film back and receive the money he is legally owed.

This episode is brutal and painful to listen to but I believe it will help countless filmmakers. Stay strong Michael, you are no longer alone. Enjoy my conversation with filmmaker and fighter Michael Daniel.

UPDATE: The Daily Mirror UK just published an in-depth article on Michael’s case: Click Here to Read

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The Get Gone Story in Michael Daniel Own Words

First, thank you to all the people that made every step in the journey to my having a film complete and released a possibility or even who assisted at some point in my life, or believed in me for something at any time or who helped me ever. I really do appreciate you all and if I still owe you, we’ll get there.

On that note, I’d like to say that I personally am not looking for any personal gain or money, as this debt owed doesn’t belong, nor is it owed to me personally, yet I AM the producer, I AM the director, I AM the….well, all that, so I AM responsible for the good and bad, in the film and in this fight.

Now… I am super grateful life brought all the cast & crew for GET GONE into my world. All stellar people, all of whom I appreciate for their time, effort, and sacrifice, to help me make my dream come true, they are all Golden Gods and this is also about standing up for what they worked for.

Above all, thank you to Joseph Shelley AKA ‘Shrek’., my friend and executive producer on GET GONE. Joe is a Navy man and not a movie man really, he’ll be the first to tell you that. He is a good-hearted person who wants to help people. He welcomes complete strangers into his home or to camp in his yard and has done so for years. That’s the kind of human he is.

Truth is, other than being a self-taught man, I also am not a ‘college/ film school guy’. I love movies, always have, love stories, always have written, and loved reading, so it just made sense to learn it on my own. I’m far from perfect, hopefully, next time I’ll be closer.

Joe is a long time friend that reached out to me after seeing I would place in script contests (Semi-Finalist Nicholls Fellowship “Circle In The Water” Civil Rights drama) and works to get things out there.

I’d be an extra in a film, make a short film or write one, or sell one, or get hired to write a script, or be on a game show or two, make some hiking documentaries and other victories and never quite get someone behind a larger movie on the financial scale needed to at least try. That isn’t to take away from all the amazing people involved in any other projects throughout my life, those people too, are loved. Especially my hiking and outdoor film work, DM Burrows you da’ man.

WALKING WITH FREEDOM: A Hike On The Appalachian Trail

Then as I progressed, I was writing or taking part in projects for years and always getting JUST THIS CLOSE to some major signing or sell or something awesome actually materializing — then….as it happens in life occurs, the opportunity dies and we move onward and keep trying anyway.

Joe saw what I did and how hard I worked with nothing — living in poverty and STILL dedicated to working on projects — and still was able to make it work and he believed in me as a friend and writer. Joe had access to funds and wanted to make a movie and wanted to help me achieve a dream by allowing me to write and direct it.

Well, hell yeah. God, yes! Thank you, please, yes!

Words of gratitude, gifts, whatever… nothing in the world can say how much I appreciate Joe for putting that trust into this film. That is exactly why I am fighting so hard for only the right thing to be done. I moved to Cascade Locks, Oregan, and began prepping to make a movie.

I’m not looking for extra perks. No favors. No personal payoff. What I want is for Joe, and a few others to be paid back. Me last. I’m dying so it won’t matter to me if I see another penny at this point. Sure, maybe I’ll luck out and live another 20 years, it’s just unlikely.

Still, wouldn’t mind my Chevy Colorado back, that was a great truck. I am doing better than I was last year at this time when just after sending Phoenix Worldwide Entertainment (UK) The USB drive with deliverables in June 2019 to Pinewood Studios in the UK.

I thought, well that will take a couple of weeks, so I’ll take a ‘Post Edit Its-In-The-Can’ -hike stating at Mount Hood Oregon and hike south on the Pacific Crest Trail to Ashland where I would rent a car and drive to Las Vegas, where GET GONE had just been announced as a Festival pick for AOF.

So I was feeling grand. Not grand exactly.

My friend and editor Erich can attest, I knew something was wrong physically in the last week or so as we edited. I actually said;

“I think I’m dying man.”

At that point, I thought it was a bad Spring flu. The sickness made my mood all over the place and my temper was shot. I was stressed all due to cancer I didn’t know existed inside me and at that time, I put the blame firmly on my own worry and stress over making sure GET GONE was as good as we could get it before sending it out. I made a joke on set to my 1st AD Chris when my pain got so bad it was obvious to them;

“If I get a tumor I’m naming it after …..”

Part of the stress was that we had missing scenes and no money to film them, we had to replace one of the main actors halfway through shooting and have it appear to be the same person, we didn’t get all the shots, had to return almost a month later to finish filming in June of 2018, and STILL didn’t film the ending I wrote due to time and money. Mainly money. Totally Money.

And next time, I won’t film in summer for a NIGHT film— Anyway…

This takes us back in time a bit, 2018, November, American Film Market! The beautiful beaches of Santa Monica California, whiskey, films, and money. The Lowes Hotel is floor after floor of bright-eyed indie producers who mingle with low-level sharks with no morals.

Then higher up, for the right price, you take can a chance on actually sitting down and having meetings with all levels of distributors with good intentions who have to deal with some sales agents who are not always on the up and up, or the very same sharks you meet in the basement. They are all here. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s fast-paced. It’s a good time.

I meet with people and had offers for GET GONE from Gravitas, IAN, ACORT, (Lebowski) “The Dude”s company, and a couple more. Then I got an offer I couldn’t refuse. A $100,000 minimum guarantee offer on Universal Rights for distribution and sale from Emanuel Moretti, Michael Cowan, and Robbie Moffat of Phoenix Worldwide Entertainment.

That deal means that no other distributor or sales agent could move or sell my movie to ANY territory anywhere in the world. Exclusive sales went to Phoenix and they would have the right to act as sales agent and distributor as it saw fit and after they were paid back for the MG (Minimum Guarantee) there was a 25/75 split. For $100,000, Joe and I were fine with that.

I had the company send me the contract. I read it, was blown away, excited, could not believe my luck, had an agent friend look at it, he said it was a bit wonky, made a few changes to make it fair, they looked over his changes and agreed, sent it back signed, I signed it and then off to the races… Now we had to make sure all deliverables were done as listed in the contract and there are a lot.

This cost a lot of extra money that I did not have, that I did not have access to so I had to sell my 2016 Chevy Colorado — I wasn’t concerned, the $100,000 MG would right that problem.

I had to borrow a bit more to cover QC (Quality Control) issues that I didn’t know we had. I had to borrow a bit more for Phoenix Worldwide not picking up the USD Drive with deliverables in the UK for months, so I had to re-ship another as well as set up an emergency Dropbox so they could get them right then.

 

So, in June 2019, the USB with deliverables gets to the UK, they know it’s there, it’s 5 miles from their office, yet they won’t pick it up or give FedEx their tax ID so FedEx can just walk it over. They don’t help at all and I spend days on the phone with FedEx international, over and over giving them Phoenix Worldwide info, telling them phone numbers, and giving them names and info of who to contact.

I call and email PWE and tell them to go or contact FedEx international, they just won’t do it. During this time, PWE sold GET GONE to Cleopatra Entertainment without telling us, we found out later, and had to fight and brawl to get paid in NOVEMBER from an April sale, which is a sale before they had the first deliverables or had even told me about it. And they didn’t pay us what we were owed, they never told me what the deal was, that too I had to fight to get a copy of.

The deal was for $35,000, they didn’t let me know and only paid us $22,500 for domestic. This bothered me a great deal. If you look at their account here, it shows you, they had the money to pay me but made the choice not to. Not the date on the payment versus when they accepted deliverables. At this point, I still did not know the total from the sale.

Also, if you look at the payment above, it’s the middle of November, over a month after they finally accepted all deliverables, 7 months after they sold it without telling me. Also, check the dates on the payment VS the date PWE sold my film to Cleopatra on this Agreement. My film arrived in the UK in June, they never picked it up, yet sold my movie in APRIL.. 6 months before they accepted deliverables and never told me.

At this point I’d like to own something; I was going through chemo at this point in my life and it sucked. A lot. Radiation, Steroids, Xeloda, Chemo, Stage 4 Colon Cancer, throwing up every day, all day… The stress of money owed, of this deal, of constant willful avoidance of me and fixing the problem, and new things coming up, It was too much and I did in fact 100% send emails that weren’t in the least civil and used words that are very vulgar. I do not deny it, nor do I regret it. They exist and I wrote them. I’ve had to go without my cancer meds, I’ve over-drafted in my bank, I’ve had my power cut off. Twice.

All goes back to them not paying and sadly, me being unable to work presently. I am trying to believe me. At a point, it just got past being a deflection or being ignored and I lost my temper more than I would have liked due to the levels of poison in my body and how these people who knew I was dying and sick refused to pay the MG they owed and not only that but choose to keep almost 30% of our sale without telling me while they had it in the account to pay us.

Even though they knew my situation with cancer and how bad it had gotten and that I could not afford my meds and my power had gotten shut off once. At this point, months into the fight, I was incredibly physically sick. The person you see in these videos, in the Podcast, that is healing me.

Take a look at my cancer journey videos over the last year, it’s not pretty, and I was going through all that while dealing with trying to get these guys at Phoenix Worldwide Entertainment to do the right thing. I’m not going to repeat what we talked about in the Podcast or in my youtube video again and again, but I want to give some more value to the truth.

To what is going on out there to Independent Film people, and it has been going on for a very long time, and it needs to stop. At present I finally got them to take my movie off the Phoenix Worldwide Entertainment site, last week….after months.

Then, they went ahead and listed it for sale on AFM’s page this past week, really. They had those kinds of balls. So I stopped that too.

I need this paid so I can stop worrying, so it can stop making me sicker, so I can move on, so I can remove the names of about 4-5 people who haven’t done a thing yet somehow have their name above mine on my own damn movie.

No thank you!

Thank you for listening and best of luck with your writing and film work.
Michael Thomas Daniel – Writer/Director/Producer/Fighter


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